Video Game Review: NBA 2K13 [Xbox 360]

NBA 2K13 [Xbox 360]

NBA 2K13
System: Xbox 360 (also on PS3, PC, Wii, Wii U, PSP, iOS, and Android)
Genre: Sports (Basketball)
Publisher: 2K Sports
Developer: Visual Concepts
Release Date: October 2, 2012

I have a confession to make: I’m a basketball junkie. I love the sport, and if I were to let myself go, I could easily watch/play basketball all day, every day. This love of the game extends to 2K Sports’ NBA 2K series, and I have to force myself *not* to buy the game every year simply because I know I will play nothing else for quite some time. In the last entry I played, NBA 2K11, I became hooked on the Association mode, even going so far as to play all 82 games of the first season (8 minute quarters) and then a good chunk of the next. For me, nothing beats taking over a struggling team (in my case, my hometown Detroit Pistons) and restoring them to their glory days.

Because I get hooked on sports games too easily, I avoided purchasing NBA 2K13 for as long as possible. It wasn’t until a recent Xbox Live sale that I couldn’t resist any longer — how could I pass up the latest basketball game for just $30?

NBA 2K13 [Xbox 360]

The first and most noticeable difference with 2K13 is that Jay-Z’s fingerprints are all over the game, at least in terms of presentation. The soundtrack is comprised mostly of Hov and his buddies (i.e. Kanye West and Coldplay), and his name is plastered all over the menus. It seems like a marketing ploy, but I have no complaints with it.

NBA 2K13 also introduces a new concept that shakes the core gameplay at its roots: Virtual Currency (VC). This is similar to a conventional XP system, as every game you play, no matter the mode, will earn you VC based on your performance. This currency can in turn be used to purchase upgrades for whatever mode you like. It comes especially handy in the RPG-like MyPlayer mode since VC is used to upgrade personal attributes (i.e. 3-point shooting, rebounding, etc.).

The fact that this system is tied together throughout every mode encourages you to try out every aspect of the game. This worked out wonderfully for me, as I have been putting most of my playing time into MyPlayer, a mode I have neglected in the past.

The great thing about MyPlayer mode is that it is basically a sports RPG. You create a player the way you see fit, then take control of him through his entire NBA career while earning upgrades along the way. Upset about your playing time? Feel free to complain to your general manager. Want to go to a different team entirely? Talk to your boss again and let him know — you may very well get your wish. This mode is completely immersive, as not only are there ties to social media (complete with a faux Twitter timeline), but after every game you partake in a brief, one question press conference.

NBA 2K13 [Xbox 360]

Being able to answer questions however you want is a nice touch, even if the dialogue is sometimes laughable. Sometimes my character would take on a completely different tone in his response other than what I intended, not unlike the notoriously off-kilter dialogue in LA Noire. The conversations with the GM are often ridiculous, too, leading to some unintentional hilarity.

Pretty much every other major mode is back as well, including the improved Association, which now allows you to start a season on that very day (i.e. right now) rather than just defaulting to the beginning of the year. There is one new mode that stands out — MyTeam, which is basically 2K’s answer to EA’s Ultimate Team mode.

In MyTeam, you build a team from the ground up by purchasing packs of cards. Each pack gives you a random set of players, jerseys, skills, coaches and playbooks. These are in turn used to improve your team, and you can buy/sell individual cards using VC in order to do so. It’s a fun little mode, even though it doesn’t feel as polished as that found in FIFA 13.

NBA 2K13 [Xbox 360]

With so many modes and ways to play, there is never a shortage of options in NBA 2K13. Unfortunately, there are a number of bugs that mar certain aspects of the game. For one, no matter how many times I tried, I could not join an Online Association. The fact that this is an issue five months after the game’s release is inexcusable. I also ran into frequent lag during online games, occasionally losing a connection entirely. I know this isn’t a problem on my end either.

There are also some truly bizarre gameplay glitches that pop up from time to time. The most prevalent — and annoying — for me was the sudden loss of the score overlay. This happened in every mode I played, and it seemed to be triggered by pushing “X” through the cutscenes/replays. Not being able to view the game score, let alone how much time is left on the clock, is a huge disadvantage. I cannot fathom how this bug hasn’t been fixed yet.

NBA 2K13 [Xbox 360]

The fact that these glitches are still present is frustrating, but there’s no denying that there is still a fantastic basketball experience underneath. The audio/visual presentation is still second to none, and the commentary from Kevin Harlan, Clark Kellog and Steve Kerr is the best out of any sports game, period.

Even with the lack of competition from EA Sports, NBA 2K13 is still delivering the goods year after year. This is another must play for basketball fans, even if it could have been cleaned up a bit.

8.5/10

ESPN 30 for 30: Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. The New York Knicks [2010]

ESPN 30 for 30: Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. The New York Knicks [2010]

ESPN 30 for 30: Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. The New York Knicks [2010]
Director: Dan Klores
Genre: Documentary/Sports
Language: English
Country: USA

A couple of weeks ago Amazon had an awesome Father’s Day sale going on for the ESPN Films 30 for 30 Limited Edition Collector Set. Basically the set was on sale for 1/3 of the regular price, and it included all 30 documentaries as well as a vintage ESPN hat. It was a hell of a deal, and I couldn’t help but treat myself to it.

If you are unfamiliar with the series, 30 for 30 is a collection of 30 documentaries that aired on ESPN and its sister networks from 2009 to 2010. Sportswriter Bill Simmons came up with the idea to have a wide variety of filmmakers reflect on the sports stories/events/people that mattered to them, and had them create an hour long documentary about them. There are some pretty big names attached to the project, including Spike Jonze, NBA star Steve Nash and Steve James (“Hoop Dreams“), and the various films cover a number of different sports.

The first feature I decided to watch was Dan Klores’ “Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. The New York Knicks”, partly because I had heard nothing but good things about it, and also because I grew up watching 1990s NBA basketball. I remember the epic rivalries back then, including the Pacers vs. the Knicks. This is a rivalry that heated up and kicked into high gear during the two years Michael Jordan was on hiatus playing baseball. Without the Bulls dominating the league, there was a huge opportunity open for another team to take their place. Both Indiana and New York felt they could be the best, and they met in the playoffs both years.

While the documentary is entirely about the rivalry, it focuses heavily on Reggie Miller and the memorable moments involving him in their battles. These are truly classic moments from 90s basketball:

1) John Starks’ infamous headbutt and Miller’s dramatic overselling of it. Miller is a notorious trash talker and it grew to be too much for his New York arch rival, who attacked Reggie and got himself kicked out of the game. Looking back at the footage, it looked like teammates Charles Oakley and Patrick Ewing were going to beat the shit out of Starks, and that’s a scary sight.

2) Game 5 of the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals. Diehard Knicks fan Spike Lee was sitting courtside and kept antagonizing Reggie as the Knicks were in control of the game. All of a sudden, something clicked with Miller and he went nuts and started draining shot after shot, eventually ending the game with 39 points (24 in the 4th quarter) and leading the Pacers to victory. Spike Lee was immediately chosen as the scapegoat for his team’s loss.

3) Game 1 of the 1995 Eastern Conference Finals. One of the most incredible feats ever accomplished in NBA history. The Pacers were down by six points with 18.7 seconds left. Miller hits a 3, steals the inbound pass, dribbles back and hits another 3, then seals the game with two free throws. Eight points in nine seconds. It’s remarkable to see this, even to this day.

ESPN 30 for 30: Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. The New York Knicks [2010]

The documentary touches on all three of these classic moments, and includes some awesome rare footage including a lot of the trash talk between Miller and Lee. There are also details of other elements of the rivalry including the whole “Hicks vs. Knicks” region battle, and issues with racism. Klores really does a great job piecing everything together and getting input from all of those involved, even getting soundbites from Patrick Ewing and John Starks about their devastating last-second shot misses.

You don’t have to be a Knicks or Pacers fan to enjoy Winning Time. NBA fans will get the most out of this, but even non-fans can appreciate the story behind this rivalry. Hell, my girlfriend who can’t stand professional basketball even got a kick out of the little bit she saw. Winning Time is an excellent documentary that had me feeling nostalgic for the days of my youth. I can only hope that all of the 30 for 30 documentaries are even half this good.

9/10

Hoop Dreams [1994] Movie Review

Hoop Dreams [1994]

Hoop Dreams [1994] 
Director: Steve James
Genre: Documentary/Drama/Sports
Language: English
Country: USA

People always say to me, “when you get to the NBA, don’t forget about me.” Well, I should’ve said back, “if I don’t make it to the NBA, don’t you forget about me.”
– William Gates

Hoop Dreams is a documentary about two Chicago inner-city African-American kids, William Gates and Arthur Agee, who eat, breathe and sleep basketball, and aspire someday to play in the NBA. The movie follows them through their high school years as they attempt to lead their teams to the championship all while keeping their heads above water academically.

Both students are recruited to the famous St. Joseph’s High School in Westchester, Illinois. These guys make the rough 90-minute commute every day because of the school’s reputation; after all, this is where Isiah Thomas played during his youth. An early scene shows Thomas visiting his alma mater, and it is fun to watch the kids sitting there in awe while listening to their hero. Both teens struggle with their new school at first — it takes some time to adjust to a racially diverse school considering their home neighborhoods (Cabrini-Green and West Garfield Park). When Agee struggles to play up to his potential at the school, he is dropped from the program without so much of a blink of an eye. All of a sudden Agee’s family is left with a large tuition bill that they cannot afford. This doesn’t happen to Gates. He becomes the star of his team and gets financial support from a wealthy old white lady, simply because he has been able to better utilize his talent on the court. These types of discrepancies are all too common, and Hoop Dreams brings attention to this light.

Perhaps what I loved most about this documentary is that it is wildly unpredictable. I didn’t know anything about either kid beforehand, so I had no idea what to expect. It’s easy to see in the beginning stages of the movie who is more likely to succeed, but there are always twists that can hamper anyone’s path to their dreams. Both teenagers have immense basketball talent, yet both fight hardships along their way.

Make no mistake: even though this movie is about basketball, it is so much more than that. This is a film that tackles important issues in American life, problems with racial and economic divisions, class and our educational system, not to mention the pursuit of the American Dream. This is a movie about families, and how important it is to stick together.

It should be noted that Hoop Dreams is a three hour film. There aren’t many movies of this length that have kept my interest throughout, but this is one of them. There is a lot of story to tell here, and it’s amazing that the filmmakers were able to cut down over 250 hours of footage into this picture. The extended length is never a burden, and it allows us to learn more about the families of both children. It is hard not to be intrigued by Curtis Gates, William’s older brother who was also a basketball stud but let his bad attitude and temperament ruin his once-promising career. It’s hard not to feel for the Agee family, as Arthur’s dad fights a difficult battle with drug addiction.

Hoop Dreams is a movie that I will soon not forget. Don’t let its extended running time and it’s blatant 90s look scare you — this is a masterpiece of a documentary that still resonates today.

10/10

Hoop Dreams Trailer from Kartemquin Films on Vimeo.

Hoop Dreams [1994]

Hoop Dreams [1994]

Hoop Dreams [1994]
Directors: Steve James
Genre: Documentary/Drama/Sports
Language: English
Country: USA

People always say to me, “when you get to the NBA, don’t forget about me.” Well, I should’ve said back, “if I don’t make it to the NBA, don’t you forget about me.”
– William Gates

Hoop Dreams is a documentary about two Chicago inner-city African-American kids, William Gates and Arthur Agee, who eat, breathe and sleep basketball, and aspire someday to play in the NBA. The movie follows them through their high school years as they attempt to lead their teams to the championship all while keeping their heads above water academically.

Both students are recruited to the famous St. Joseph’s High School in Westchester, Illinois. These guys make the rough 90-minute commute every day because of the school’s reputation; after all, this is where Isiah Thomas played during his youth. An early scene shows Thomas visiting his alma mater, and it is fun to watch the kids sitting there in awe while listening to their hero. Both teens struggle with their new school at first — it takes some time to adjust to a racially diverse school considering their home neighborhoods (Cabrini-Green and West Garfield Park). When Agee struggles to play up to his potential at the school, he is dropped from the program without so much of a blink of an eye. All of a sudden Agee’s family is left with a large tuition bill that they cannot afford. This doesn’t happen to Gates. He becomes the star of his team and gets financial support from a wealthy old white lady, simply because he has been able to better utilize his talent on the court. These types of discrepancies are all too common, and Hoop Dreams brings attention to this light.

Perhaps what I loved most about this documentary is that it is wildly unpredictable. I didn’t know anything about either kid beforehand, so I had no idea what to expect. It’s easy to see in the beginning stages of the movie who is more likely to succeed, but there are always twists that can hamper anyone’s path to their dreams. Both teenagers have immense basketball talent, yet both fight hardships along their way.

Make no mistake: even though this movie is about basketball, it is so much more than that. This is a film that tackles important issues in American life, problems with racial and economic divisions, class and our educational system, not to mention the pursuit of the American Dream. This is a movie about families, and how important it is to stick together.

It should be noted that Hoop Dreams is a three hour film. There aren’t many movies of this length that have kept my interest throughout, but this is one of them. There is a lot of story to tell here, and it’s amazing that the filmmakers were able to cut down over 250 hours of footage into this picture. The extended length is never a burden, and it allows us to learn more about the families of both children. It is hard not to be interested in Curtis Gates, William’s older brother who was also a basketball stud but let his bad attitude and temperament ruin his once-promising career. It’s hard not to feel for the Agee family, as Arthur’s dad fights a difficult battle with drug addiction.

Hoop Dreams is a movie that I will soon not forget. Don’t let its extended running time and it’s blatant 90’s look scare you — this is a masterpiece of a documentary that still resonates today.

10/10

Hoop Dreams Trailer from Kartemquin Films on Vimeo.

NBA 2K11 [Xbox 360, 2010]

NBA 2K11 [Xbox 360]

NBA 2K11
System: Xbox 360
Publisher: 2K Sports
Release Date: October 5, 2010

NBA 2K11’s biggest addition is summed up by the man on its box cover art: Michael f’n Jordan. Somehow this is the first game on the current generation of video game consoles to include MJ, and he is all over 2K Sport’s latest offering. Not only can you play as His Airness and a number of famous Bulls teams from the 80’s and 90’s, but there is even an entire game mode devoted to him. The Jordan Challenges, as this feature is so aptly titled, are a collection of ten of Jordan’s most amazing feats. These are all legendary moments in the man’s career, and they can be ridiculously hard to accomplish, even in this video game. Some of the challenges included are “The Arrival” (April 20, 1986 playoff game, score 63+ points and shoot 50% from the field) and “The Shrug” (June 3, 1992 playoff game, score 35+ points in the first half, make 6+ three pointers in the first half, hold Clyde Drexler to under 20 points, and win the game). There are ten total challenges, and beating them all unlocks a new “create-a-legend” mode which is similar to the “my player” mode except this time you play as a rookie Jordan instead of a created player. Needless to say, the focus on Michael Jordan is huge in this year’s game, and it will help sell a lot of copies (especially since its competition, NBA Elite, won’t be released until next year).

Other staples of the NBA 2K series are still present and as good as ever. The Association mode remains incredibly deep, giving the user the ability to act as both a team’s coach and general manager, and play multiple seasons at a time. The “My Player” mode is a fun excursion that allows created players to partake in summer league games, get drafted by an NBA team and attempt to work their way up to being a superstar. A cool bonus to this mode is the ability to play a “pick up game” against other created players via Xbox Live. Online play is back, and although it currently has some lag and connection issues, there is a patch on the way that should help things out.

For hardcore and casual fans alike, NBA 2K11 will keep gamers busy for a long time. It’s not perfect — there are some minor issues with the gameplay, such as tricky passing controls, and problems shooting from the side (these shots tend to hit the side of the backboard too often) — but this is easily the greatest and most complete basketball experience currently available. NBA 2K11 is a remarkable game, and the 2K series has clearly taken over as the premiere basketball series.

9/10